April 11th 2013 was a momentous evening as H.E. Tsem Rinpoche gave his first teaching at Kechara Forest Retreat. The teaching was about "Da-mey" - the no-self. What is the no self? Rinpoche began by asking where is the "I"? Is it in my finger? If it is, and I cut my finger off, then is that finger 'me'? If not, where am I? Is it the arm, the leg.. the head? If I am my head, then if I cut off my head, is my head 'me'? When we think about it, it's not. Then is it my torso? Actually, even my torso is not 'me'. So where is 'me'?
If we contemplate deeply about this question, we will realise that my body and I are not the same. This is a wrong perception of ourselves which we have held since we were born. This wrong perception is based on ignorance. What wrong perception have we been having? We have been thinking that this body is ONE with us. All our lives, we have been focusing on our body - to clean it, cloth it, pleasure it, to be lazy with it etc. "Our body is our temple" is taken literally. When we think that we are one with our body, we are constantly putting energy into pleasing it and to keeping it looking well and as youthful as possible - some going through extremes of plastic surgery to keep up appearances. However, we are actually trying to make what is a temporary place a permanent one.
Rinpoche asked us to start meditating everyday that our body does not belong to us. We are simply temporary residents of that body. Why do we put so much energy into something we cannot keep and which will be discarded in the end? We need to disassociate ourselves with our body. When we do this meditation well, we will start to look at our body as a vehicle and not a property. We do not really own our bodies - why? Because we can never know when it will expire. As such, we have no control over it. However, by thinking that we own this body and that we have control over it, it creates tremendous suffering.
We own our body as much as we own the body of the person next to us. But we think we own our body. We have insecurities over our body - it's too fat, too thin, too tall, too short. Our fears will increase with age, especially when our body begins to deteriorate. In time, we will lose control over our body - through illness or simply age. We will create problems for people around us as they have to help look after us when we physically cannot cope.
We have thought that we own our body all through our lives, and at the point of death, suddenly our body no longer belongs to us and it can be a rude awakening. Rinpoche said that it was like suddenly realising that you are adopted. Everything you believed in, everything you based your thoughts on, is not true. In that moment, you may be emotionally traumatised. However, once you realise you are adopted, after the tears and confusion and some anger perhaps, you will eventually settle down to realise this new truth about yourself. This is similar to coming to terms with the fact that we do not own our body. Think how many years you have wasted thinking that you own your body and you have become a slave to your body. Your body is NOT your property, it is your vehicle. The difference is that if it is your property, it becomes an object for self-indulgence. If it is your vehicle, it is an object to serve others.
People will sacrifice things with meaning in exchange for selfishness. This is not criticism but something to contemplate on and a process of self-discovery. When you disassociate yourself as a property and instead see your body as a vehicle, you open yourself to love with no agenda to everyone around you. It is effortless love from which we will serve others tirelessly. It is a vehicle also to something better, to something higher - to the ultimate goal of liberation and enlightenment.
When we think of our body in terms of something we own, it is all about me, me, me. When we operate from that perspective, our unhappiness increases and in time, our body will be our ultimate traitor. Why do we focus so much time and effort on something we do not own?
A vehicle takes us from A to B and by meditating on this, our bad habits become easier to let go of. Our restlessness will decrease and doing work for others becomes pleasurable. As you age, you become gracious, light, mature, respected, instead of becoming colder, less responsible, bitter and unhappy.
Rinpoche then cited Mother Teresa and Nelson Mandela as examples of people who cared for others. It is not about what religion you follow but how you lead your life. Fear and insecurities always hide in the dark, so shine the light on yourself! Where there is light, there can be no darkness - dark and light cannot co-exist and I remember someone saying that darkness is merely a state where there is an absence of light. Darkness does not exist as a state of its own. Our delusions are like cockroaches - switch on the light and they scurry away!
Rinpoche then challenged us by asking us questions on selfishness. First he asked, have we all experienced selfishness from others. We all agreed that we had. Next he asked, have we all given pain to others because of our selfishness, we all agreed that we had. Therefore, he said that selfishness equals to hurt and selfishness is negative. Selfishness hurts - it hurts us and others.
To conclude, Rinpoche then told us to meditate on this everyday - that our body is not us. If we can meditate on this successfully, when we die, we do not need a Lama to perform powa (death transference meditation). We can just think of anything that reminds us of virtuous activity - monks, nuns, ladrang, tsoksha (monk's hat), and it will open up the good karma we have accumulated and we will have a good rebirth. Rinpoche did not mention it but of course the best to meditate on at our death is our spiritual teacher, our Yidam or our Dharma Protector - and best of all would be all three as one.